“In many ways, the essential player for our entire festival is the geography and psycho-geography of Williamsburg and Greenpoint,” he said.
By psycho-geography, he meant that Williamsburg is no longer just a place — it’s a brand. And it’s safe to say Stedman’s Northside Media Group — which owns L Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine, and produces the Northside Festival — has had a lot to do with that. “The entire goal of our company is to define and showcase Brooklyn as a national adjective for ‘what’s next’ through media and large scale events like the Northside Festival,” he said.
Stedman lived in Williamsburg when he and his brother Daniel founded Northside Media Group, but has since moved with his family to Boston. Still, he clearly remains a fan of the area’s “sort of wild-eyed and remarkable celebration of the human spirit and all of its goofy and insane manifestations.”
He went on: “It can be a parody of itself but it’s the best – the best. I just love it. I love the effort – the pretension that this community matters. It’s fucking awesome. It’s great. People trying to the point of comedy – a comedy of trying too hard.”
Stedman himself was dressed in an off-white ensemble that reminded me of linens. He was tall and goofily handsome, with medium-length wavy brown hair that blew into his eyes.
For the past decade, he and his brother, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, have been trying to bring national and global attention to Brooklyn’s cutting-edge culture. “We started Northside Media Group ten years ago because we felt that Brooklyn was this incredibly exciting environment and there was no media that was really focused on this community that we felt was about to change the world,” said Scott.
According to him, that’s exactly what’s happened. Take Arcade Fire. “Arcade Fire,” he said, “is a Montreal band and they would be successful any day in age, but the thing that Brooklyn’s done has been so influential across the country that it’s that thing that allows Arcade Fire to sell out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden.”
But one has to wonder: once you take the innovative and creative ideas of Williamsburg and slap a blurb on them and unify them and attempt to attract global corporations to the area to set up shop and eventually buy them, can you really say that Williamsburg is the underbelly of counterculture?
This year, over 100 start-up companies showcased at the Northside Extrepreneurship and Technology expo and conference. The Stedmans believe NExT is bound to become the fastest growing part of Northside Festival. Because they view Williamsburg/Greenpoint as more of a brand than a region, they see no need to keep the expo showcasers or the conference speakers local (this year’s exhibitors ranged from New York-based boutique startups like online lingerie company Ampere to global heavyweights like Bing and Google). Instead, they are more interested in featuring the trends that are going to “impact the world in a profound way.”
At the conference, there was a contagious, entrepreneurial energy that made me wonder whether New York — and especially Brooklyn, the new home of Kickstarter and of Amazon’s fashion department — could become a tech hub. Joe Meyer, the president and CEO of Hop Stop, said that it was possible but that the city had a long way to go. “A lot of companies are getting started here but none have stood on their own two feet throughout time,” he told me. “I think it’s because there are a lot of media companies. Bloomberg is still our biggest company and that’s a media company. I was hoping Tumblr would be the first company to stand on its own two feet but it never figured out how to monetize itself.”
But Scott Stedman believes that New York has an advantage in its ability to create and sell companies that are simply improving on already globalized products as opposed to trying to do something incredibly new. “What makes New York so exciting and compelling right now in this singular moment is that it is a community that exemplifies a broader entrepreneurship movement across the country, which is 1% solutions – improving the industry by 1% and then getting an exit.”
After our interview, I wandered around McCarren Park, where Red Bull’s Live Build event was being staged. Six teams had been tasked with creating an interactive instrument capable of composing and creating live music. Not a single one of the teams was from New York. Harvey Moon, who runs the MB Labs design company out of his 4,000 sq ft. apartment in Chicago, cited his large live/work space, for which he pays just $2,000 a month, as a reason he was able to “create” so much with his friends.
Mike Swift — who as the cofounder of Hacker League and developer/evangelist for SendGrid works with New York City companies like Foursquare, Kickstarter, Tumblr, and Crowdtap — just moved to Williamsburg from the Ace Hotel in Midtown, where he was living for six months because he travels so often for work. Before that, he was living in New Jersey and commuting to New York City daily. He said that while he doesn’t think Brooklyn is a tech hub when compared to Union Square or the Flatiron, he knows “a ton of people in Williamsburg who are either founders or are working on new companies.”
Since he moved to a building off of the Bedford stop in September, he has lived with the founders of Small Girls, Brothers Green, Mote, Hacker League, and SNA — “so, yeah, lots of startup activity,” he said.
Northside is definitely tapped into that trend and is helping to promote it. Alexandra Pauline, a producer of the expo, said its exhibitors were “directly targeting this Brooklyn community. They’re who are working within startups or starting them themselves.”
We the citizens would like to think we’re the voice of what’s next, but are we? Or are we just competing in the small margin global corporations have left us? Are we really defining New York or is that now the job of major global brands? And did you know that we are being branded?